Can a Custodial Parent Move Away with a Child?

When a child’s parents split up, the courts are usually involved in creating some sort of custody arrangement. Parents can work out these arrangements on their own and only need the court’s stamp of approval, but a judge will need to step in when there are disagreements about how to divide a child’s time between each parent.

Part of this process will involve determining which parent will have physical custody of a child and which parent will have legal custody of a child. Respectively, these refer to where a child will live and the authority to make important decisions for the child. Sometimes both types of custody can be shared, although one parent may be awarded both entirely or get no custody whatsoever.

Even if parents share physical custody, however, a child will inevitably spend more time with one than the other. This isn’t just because there is an odd number of days in the week, but also because dividing a child’s time evenly during the week can interfere with their schooling or other important factors. Usually, the parent who has more time with the child during the week is listed as the custodial parent.

What Happens When a Custodial Parent Wants to Move?

Life happens, so let’s say that the custodial parent wants to move from their current residence. Maybe they want to move where the rent’s cheaper, maybe they got a new job in another state.

The custodial parent’s desire to move matters because the non-custodial parent may share some physical custody or visitation rights with their child. Moving can make it more difficult, expensive, or impossible for the non-custodial parent to exercise these rights.

Custodial parents must notify the court before they can move away. Under California law, custodial parents who wish to relocate must provide written notice of their plans at least 45 days before the proposed move. The non-custodial parent then has an opportunity to object to the relocation and request a modification of the child custody agreement.

How the Move Will Affect a Child Matters

The impact a move will have on a child is key to determining if a modification of the custody agreement is necessary. Keep in mind, though, that a judge won’t necessarily modify custody just because a move is hard on a child – rather, the move must have a severe negative impact on the child before a change of custody is addressed. What’s more, the onus is usually on the noncustodial parent to prove that a change of custody would benefit the child.

In any case, a judge will evaluate the following factors before making a decision:

  • The age of the child
  • The reason for the move
  • The distance of the move
  • The parents' existing custody arrangement
  • The way the move will affect the child socially
  • The child's wishes, depending upon his or her age
  • The way the move will affect the child psychologically
  • The impact the move will have upon the child's education
  • The impact the move will have on the child's relationship with the noncustodial parent

If a custodial parent’s reason to move isn’t rooted in something that could directly benefit their child – such as moving for employment or to live near other relatives – the non-custodial parent can prevail in altering the custody agreement.

For example, a parent in California who wants to move back to the East Coast for no reason other than preferring the “vibe” or climate stands to lose custody if the child’s other parent objects to the move.

What Happens When the Non-Custodial Parent Moves?

Non-custodial parents can relocate at any time as long as they don’t take their children with them. To account for such a move, the parent’s visitation schedule will also need to be adjusted to account for the move, but the non-custodial parent must petition for this. As in the case when a custodial parent moves, the judge will assess what’s in the child’s best interest and modify custody or visitation (or do neither) accordingly.

If the non-custodial parent is moving out of state and had supervised visitation as a result of child abuse or substance abuse, they will need to return to California to visit their children.

Claery & Hammond, LLP Can Help

Our firm is dedicated to helping people deal with life’s most difficult family law issues, such as child custody matters. We know that staying close with your children is important, but life sometimes makes things more complex than we’d prefer them to be. Rest assured that our legal advocates are here to provide the compassionate and dedicated support you need to assert your rights.

For more information about how Claery & Hammond, LLP can help, please contact us online today.